Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of health globally. This was true before COVID-19, but the pandemic has further worsened the status of mental health. The end of the year is particularly a difficult time regarding mental health. The coronavirus pandemic has exasperated the mental health challenges for most people.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or, in some cases, halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health is increasing. Given the chronic nature of the disease, this translates into a significant economic impact worldwide. Countries spend less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health. It is expected that in the next ten years, depression will put more burden on nations than any other disease.
The pandemic and its consequences
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, new fast-spreading variants have caused a surge in infections in many countries, and renewed lockdowns. The devastation of the pandemic — millions of deaths, economic strife and unprecedented curbs on social interaction — has already had a marked effect on people’s mental health.
Researchers worldwide are investigating the causes and impacts of this stress, and some fear that the deterioration in mental health could linger long after the pandemic has subsided. Ultimately, scientists hope that they can use the mountains of data being collected in studies about mental health to link the impact of particular control measures to changes in people’s well-being, and to inform the management of future pandemics.
More than just "the winter blues," seasonal depression, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), occurs at the same time each year. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is depression that gets triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts. This seasonal depression gets worse in the winter before ending in the spring.
Some people may get a mild version of SAD known as the “winter blues.” It’s normal to feel a little down during colder months. You may be stuck inside, and it gets dark early.
But full SAD goes beyond that — it’s a form of depression. Unlike the winter blues, SAD affects your daily life, including how you feel and think.
Festive Season and Mental Health
Depression tends to increase during the festival season due to an increase in demands (perceived as stressful), family issues, and being unable to manage expectations. The increased demands on our time, energy, patience, and flexibility can take a toll.
For those already managing depression who may already be struggling with symptoms of fatigue, irritability, sadness, and feeling unable to cope with change or additional stress, the result of all the additional stress of the holidays can be simply feeling unable to meet those expectations, which can, unfortunately, lead to increased feelings of depression.
A common symptom of depression is anhedonia or the loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities or the inability to experience any kind of pleasure.
The festive season is a busy time when normal routines are often interrupted. There are many behaviors and situations which may cause stress and/or depression at this time of year.
The festive season is a period of over-indulgence and the combination of too much food and generally poor nutrition can have a negative impact on an individual’s mood.
The materialistic nature of society is thought to contribute to depression in general, and in the festive season, there is considerable pressure to buy luxuries, which causes financial strain for many.
Festive family gatherings are, at least according to expectations, a time for sharing love and joy. In reality, they often mean extra work and can be a time of conflict. Conflict with family members can cause stress and contribute to depression.
Role of exaggerated Images and information on social media
Plenty of studies have found correlations between higher social media use and poorer mental health, including depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and isolation, lower self-esteem, and even suicidality.
Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there's an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people's lives, particularly on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours. This can prove to make one feel inadequate and increase depression and overall sadness.
Role of News
Most new channels do programs at year end that summarize the entire year, of the events past. Some of such programs can act as triggers to many people already in distress. Also, these programs coax people to introspect critically at all events of their lives in the past year. If these events are full of distress, they can trigger anxiety and lead to depression.
A constant stream of sensational or "disaster" reporting, whether you are exposed actively or passively, can elevate stress levels and trigger symptoms like anxiety and trouble sleeping.
Unfortunately, a lot of the news we consume today isn’t so much reporting as it is a way of keeping people addicted to the news cycle. Because sensational headlines get more attention, media outlets often end up focusing on disaster reporting—and rarely any positive news. Consuming too much of this kind of news, whether actively or passively, can be very toxic, and what you hear has an impact on your mood.
Living with Grief
For those of us who have lost loved ones, yearend that year can be a particularly difficult time. Being around celebrations, joy and watching people spend time with friends and family can exacerbate feelings of loss and pain. It’s also important to remember that people living in abusive situations can also be negatively affected by festive cheer.
The year-end is unlikely to be perfect or stress-free. Coping with the stress of festivities can be easier if you approach them with realistic expectations.
Whatever events arise and cause stress, remember that it is just one short period.
Seek help if and when needed. New Year’s depression may be a real phenomenon, but that does not mean it is inevitable or that you can’t do anything about it. Be proactive if you know this time of year impacts your mental health. Reach out to friends and family, make new traditions, reflect in positive ways, and get support if you need it.
Anyone in psychosocial distress can use the following resources
KIRAN – 1800 599 0019 (24×7) — 13 Indian languages
NIMHANS – 080 – 4611 0007 (24×7) — Multiple languages
ICall – 9152987821 (Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.)
Pallium India – +91 759 405 2605 (Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) — Eight Indian languages
CoHope Helpline – +91 98185 40802 (10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.)